Art Works Blog

Three Books That Changed My Life

Two-time NEA Literature Fellow Marilyn Chin is a translator and novelist as well as a poet. She has received numerous awards and fellowships, in addition to her grants from the Arts Endowment, including Fulbright, Rockerfeller, and US Artists International Fellowships. Her most recent collection, Hard Work Province, just garnered the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in the first year the prize was open to poetry collections. To celebrate her upcoming appearance on the NEA Stage at this weekend's National Book Festival, we asked Chin to share with us three books that changed her life. Here's what she had to say.

I reread these books often…they help my muse to create a polyphonic, multi-faceted, global, multi-generational, cross-fertilizing sensibility.

Sunflower Splendor—Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry is an indispensible anthology that covers centuries of Chinese poetry. I bought a copy at the Jeffery Amherst Bookstore in my twenties. This anthology compelled me to become a Chinese Literature major and to learn Classical Chinese. I read a poem in Classical Chinese every day to remind me of my Asian roots.

Ariel by Sylvia Plath. Like all bookish American girls, I read The Bell Jar and all of Plath’s poetry when I was young. However, I keep returning to Ariel—I reread it for it’s artistic brilliance. Nevermind the grisly biography, it’s a damn good book! It’s a lasting American legacy.

Jump-cut to my (ahem) forties. I discovered Blues Legacies and Black Feminism by Angela Davis. This book introduced me to the African-American female blues tradition that includes the likes of Big Mama Thorton and Bessie Smith. It helped me to honor the African-American tradition in my work.

Hear more from Chin in our Art Talk interview with her. And follow the NEA conversation at the September 5 National Book Festival all day on Twitter. Just look for the hashtags #NEALit and #NatBookFest15. 

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